The historical maze
DOI link for The historical maze
The historical maze book
The basis of the confusion is both methodological and conceptual. It relates not only to how people go about recording and researching data, but also to the particular ideas and perspectives they bring to the task. As Scull (1989: 3) notes, ‘most historians, after all, quite rightly see themselves as engaged in the task of explaining and not just reproducing the past’. When searching for relevant contextual material it is usually necessary to rely on the painstaking work of others. In doing so, it has to be acknowledged that significantly different versions of historical ‘reality’ will be encountered. Nor is this problem easily overcome by conducting one’s own archival research. Such a task is equally daunting and throws up its own dilemmas. ‘History’ is not some kind of storehouse of pure, uncontaminated ‘truths’ simply waiting for the contemporary researcher to uncover their significance for the present. Historical events, documents or artefacts cannot be understood devoid of messy context – be it social, cultural, economic, political, ideological or religious. Moreover, historical analysis is an inherently hazardous undertaking
for contemporary generations of researchers engaging in acts of interpretation, as the attribution of meaning and intention to an historical event or account is a profoundly subjective exercise (Miller, 1994). That is, there are not merely difficulties to do with the recording of ‘facts’, but also to do with the conflicting views of society held by different historical researchers (Crotty, 1998; May and Williams, 1998; Outhwaite, 1987).